Game 23 Recap: Jackets Leave One On The Table

When you see a 4-3 final score, even one in the shootout, you don't expect it to be a tale of defense and goaltending, yet there it is.

Both teams got VERY good games from their goaltenders, and both teams had clutch plays from defensemen to score key goals.

Unfortunately, only one team had critical blunders from a defenseman...

The Jackets came out with a hard jump, starting the new third line of Moreau, Pahlsson, and Clark, who got good possession in the Nashville Zone before turning over to the second line, and the Jackets almost cashed in early, with

Antoine Vermette


Pekka Rinne

out of position and sending a pass to

R.J. Umberger

, who hit the post of the empty net and saw the puck bounce back into the crease, but could not sweep it into the wide open goal before Rinne could get back and poke it away.

A few minutes later, another puck squirted through the crease in front of Jakub Voracek, but the Czech winger shot wide on what would have been an open net.

Despite that, after killing a Derick Brassard tripping penalty, the first 15 minutes of the period were all Jackets, and when Ryan Suter was sent to the box for the first Jackets' power play of the evening, things seemed promising.

Unfortunately, after the Predators rebuffed the initial surge, a pass went back to Anton Stralman, who coughed the puck up to the Preds' Nick Spaling at the blue line, and finally was forced to drag Spaling to the ice, putting the game into a 4-on-4.

The Jackets killed off the 4-on-4 and managed to get through the Nashville Power Play, but Cal O'Reilly was able to cradle the puck behind the net and set up a passing play through Mike Commodore and R.J. Umberger to Colin Wilson standing right at the top of the crease, and Mason was unable to close his pads in time to stop the five-hole shot.

Down 1-0 to the Predators, the second period began with a very choppy, disjointed feel, but the Jackets seemed to be smoothing things out when they earned another power play, this one sending Jerred Smithson to the box for a high stick on Derek MacKenzie, but in an eerie mirror of the first period, Stralman again coughed up the puck to Spaling, this time off the initial face off win by Antoine Vermette, and went back to the box for another hook.

In this 4-on-4 however, it would be the Jackets who drew blood, as Kris Russell would gather the puck behind his own net and blow through Nashville's defense on an end to end rush, getting the puck in deep before pulling up at the half boards, sending a puck through to Umberger at the end boards. Umberger made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Jan Hejda, who had stepped up to join the rush and fired on Rinne from just below the left faceoff dot, and Antoine Vermette came in to sweep up the rebound and fire it into the wide open net to tie the game at 1.

For much of the period, things seemed to equalize, but late in the second the Preds would take another lead. Battling along the boards in the Jackets' zone, Martin Erat would get the puck and send it to Sergei Kostitsyn, then come around the side boards where Kostitsyn would fire the puck back in a centering pass after getting around Anton Stralman, and the puck took a bounce off of a Columbus stick (Derick Brassard, I believe) and into the net past Mason for the 2-1 lead.

The Jackets went back on their heels a bit, but it would be the Predators who committed the next error, putting too many men on the ice just as the period was about to end, giving Columbus the man advantage to start the third period.

The Jackets would have difficulty getting much going during the power play, but in the dying seconds Steve Mason would make a great outlet pass up to Antoine Vermette in the neutral zone, who dropped the puck back to Kris Russell, wide open between the Nashville defense, and Russ would slide into the high slot before firing it past Rinne, top shelf, to tie the game.

Russell's goal put a jump into the Jackets, and it showed. Hammering at Rinne, the Jackets had two more "near miss" moments before Rick Nash worked the puck out behind the net, passed to Umberger at the half boards, got the puck back and battled his way past the Nashville defense, and fired on Rinne's pads, creating a rebound that Vermette was able to tap past Rinne for his second goal of the night, and a 3-2 lead.

Nashville, however, was able to find a response just over a minute later - turning up the pressure and keeping the Jackets from clearing the puck for almost a full minute, Kevin Kline recovered an Ethan Moreau clearing attempt and fired a seeing-eye shot that went past several Predators and Blue Jackets before going in off the inside post past a screened Steve Mason.

Despite one last power play opportunity for the Jackets, the game would head to OT, and both teams would pick up a point.

In the overtime frame, the Jackets had several chances, including a glorious three on one break that they could not convert on, and Nashville had one strong scoring chance that Mason swallowed up before the end of the 5 minute period, and it would be on to the shootout.

Scott Arniel would allow the Predators to shoot first, and Mason made a solid glove save on Cal O'Reilly, but Jakub Voracek was unable to get the puck past Rinne on an attempted stuff play.

Steve Sullivan would be next for the Preds, and the former Masterton trophy winner would go...incredibly slowly. A long, laborious skate that deked this way and that before Mason finally slid out of the crease anticipating a wrist shot that never came, and Sullivan was able to simply tap the puck into an open net.

Rick Nash would shoot next for the Jackets, attempting a similar move, but Rinne kicked his leg pad out to shop the shot.

Martin Erat had a chance to seal it for the Preds, but Mason challenged the shooter and was able to force him to shoot for Mason's five hole, which he took away with a good pad stop.

Finally, it came down to Antoine Vermette, but despite finding two goals this evening, he could not keep the Jackets alive in the skills competition.

The Jackets suffered their first OT/SO loss of the season to the Preds, 4-3.

Standard Bearers:

  • Antoine Vermette - Two goals and a good try in the shootout. If he'd been able to capture one of those early bounces, we'd be talking about his first hat trick as a Blue Jacket.
  • R.J. Umberger - Umberger continued his franchise record point streak, extending it to 10 straight games.
  • Kris Russell - Kris finally seemed like he had his legs under him for the first time this year. His end to end rush was a thing of beauty, and his goal was created by his skating after he took the Vermette pass. Here's hoping that was a good confidence boost for the young blueliner.

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • Anton Stralman - A -2 tonight and responsible for negating the Jackets' first two power plays, Stralman spent the third period on the bench, and head coach Scott Arniel sounded pretty damn furious about his performance in the post-game presser tonight. If Marc Methot is deemed ready to go on Friday after rehabbing his upper body injury, don't be surprised if Stralman sits. Hell, don't be surprised if Stralman sits regardless, given Arniel's "I have had enough of it" comments.
  • Power Play - A power play goal at any of the five opportunities the Jackets received tonight probably would have turned this game from an OT loss into a win.
  • Officiating - While there are always calls that fans will disagree with, Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo were both allowed to run Steve Mason with no call from the officials, including one hit that sent Mason to the ice and brought the entire Columbus bench to their feet. Ultimately, though, it remains a fact - the opportunities were there for the Jackets, but they couldn't cash in.

That said, I don't think this is "Same Old Jackets." Frankly, the Same Old Jackets would have folded up their tents and gone home when they went down 2-1. All things considered, it's frustrating, particularly since it was a divisional opponent, but the team did get a point out of the loss, and they're still sitting in a playoff spot. The team probably deserved a better result - I'd say the Jackets controlled 50 minutes of the 65 played, but the bounces didn't go their way tonight, and they couldn't put the game away when they needed to.

The Jackets will be on the road Friday against the Buffalo Sabres, then return home the following night to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena.

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